Ask any mother and she’ll tell you that being a mom is tough. But amid the diaper changes, soccer games, sniffly noses and book reports, God is there, as a program at St. Mary of the Hills parish in Milton is helping women discover. Called the Ministry of Mothers Sharing, or MOMS, the national program increases women’s awareness of motherhood as a vocation and a sacred calling.
Ask any mother and she’ll tell you that being a mom is tough. But amid the diaper changes, soccer games, sniffly noses and book reports, God is there, as a program at St. Mary of the Hills parish in Milton, Mass., is helping women discover. Called the Ministry of Mothers Sharing, or MOMS, the national program increases women’s awareness of motherhood as a vocation and a sacred calling.
Paula Murphy, a member of the team at St. Mary’s, says the program meets a need that goes back several years.
“We had been hearing from young mothers who felt a little disconnected,” said the mother of three grown sons. Then, in the spring of 2004, she attended a presentation by Sister Paula Hagen, a Benedictine nun and the founder of the program.
With her was Joan Regan, the director of religious education for St. Mary’s, who had worked through the program independently several years ago. “I learned that even the littlest thing I did as a mother was looked on as worth great value to the Lord,”
said Regan, a mother of eight children, ages 12 to 29.
Inspired by Sister Hagen’s presentation, Joan and Paula assembled a core team of women at St. Mary’s and first offered the program in the fall of 2004. Three years later, the current group has a broader scope.
“It was designed for mothers, but it really is for any woman,” Murphy said. “[For example] we’ve found in the group a lot of extended family issues. It’s learning a different way to cope with some of the things we’re dealing with on a day-to-day basis as women.”
The group meets weekly in the rectory chapel, a holy and homey place. Comfortable chairs are arranged in a circle and the sacred atmosphere is enhanced by a candle burning near the altar. On the candle is a silhouette depicting the visitation of Mary, the mother of Jesus, to Elizabeth, her cousin, when both women were with child. That reaching out between women is the model for the eight-week ministry.
“Mary shared her feelings with Elizabeth. That’s the basis for the whole MOMS program. It’s women ministering to each other,” Murphy said.
The small community of prayer and support that MOMS offers provides an important supplement to the weekly celebration of the Mass. According to the Rev. Arthur Wright, pastor of St. Mary’s, it’s that small-group structure that allows people to open up to each other.
“Through this sharing of experiences,” he said, “women help each other see God’s grace at work in their everyday lives.”
He added that this need for deeper relationships is by design.
“Jesus knew we couldn’t do it alone. We need that connectedness to help each other, and share joys and struggles, on our journey back home to God.”
To help women see the spiritual aspect of their work as mothers, prayer has a central role in the program.
A typical meeting begins with an opening prayer, and then moves into a scripture reading or poem related to the key concepts for the week. From that point, there is a facilitated discussion that helps women connect their day-to-day experiences with the reading, their private journal writing, and to each other.
“Women talk about their everyday life,” said Regan. “And the facilitators, the journal and the questions for discussion guide you to see the spiritual component.”
Every session closes with a sharing prayer, where participants pray aloud if they wish. This ritual strengthens the bonds of mutual trust.
“Usually I pray alone, or with my family or in church. But [praying in] this small community of eight women – that’s something really powerful,” Murphy said.
Does the program’s eight weeks of prayer and discussion turn women into perfect mothers?
“If anybody knows that doesn’t exist, it’s mothers,” Murphy said, laughing. “We’re not there to give advice. We facilitate a program that exists that is a self-journey.”
“We’re not going to teach anybody anything,” added Regan.
So how does the program help with the sometimes mundane tasks of raising a family?
“It takes all those to another level,” she said. “It’s not just doing a chore, it’s a ministry. We’re helping them awaken their own spirituality, and to realize that it is in the everyday moments. It’s really a spiritual journey toward your everyday life.”